Development and Dissemination of Sustainable Integrated Soil Fertility Management Practices for Smallholder Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa

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The Development and Dissemination of Sustainable and Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) Practices for Smallholder Farms in Sub-Saharan Africa were implemented by IFDC and TSBF of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and partners at key sites in seven West African countries. The key sites in West Africa were Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Ghana, and Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were key sites in Southern Africa. The ISFM Framework Project started in May 2001 and ended in December 2004. At all sites, activities were based on annual action plans developed with partners during annual workshops. Action plans typically included training, research, public awareness, and up/out scaling activities. Partners included seven IFAD investment programs, thirteen national research institutes and universities, fifteen non-governmental organizations (NGOs), five financial institutions, and ten national extension agencies. Two networks were active in coordinating the research and extension efforts—the Agricultural Intensification in Sub-Saharan Africa (AISSA) network established with financial backing from this project and convened by IFDC and the African Network for Soil Biology and Fertility (AfNet) convened by TSBF-CIAT. Although biased toward the latter, the project’s logical framework encompassed the entire research-to-development continuum from process research to adaptive research and dissemination. At the process level, the project generated an improved understanding of interactions between organic inputs and mineral fertilizers and their impact on soil organic matter buildup and nutrient supply. More insight was also gained into farmers’ priorities regarding soil fertility management and social and gender differences among farmers regarding access and management of soil resources. The key challenge at the action research level was combining local knowledge of socio-economic and biophysical determinants of yield and soil quality with scientific knowledge of agroecological principles to develop practical and feasible technologies to boost farm production and maintain or improve soil fertility. Many technological options (two to three options per site) were evaluated in three main farming systems, i.e., the agro-pastoral millet/sorghum system, the maize-mixed system, and the irrigated rice-based system. In low-input systems, most evaluated technologies were based on combining organic inputs and judicious use of mineral fertilizers. Organic inputs included household waste, cattle manure, and straw. Other technological options tested with farmers focused on introducing N-fixing legumes in farming systems, such as mucuna, soybean, and cowpea. Fertilizer-N recovery rates were doubled in most cases (from a low 0.10–0.15 kg kg1 to 0.4 kg kg1 for sorghum). Yields were increased from 0.4 to 0.7 t ha1 to 2 to 2.7 for sorghum and from 0.8 t ha1 to 3 to 4 t ha1 for maize. In the Sahel and Sudano-savanna zone, water conservation technologies were combined with improved soil fertility management (including precision placement of microdoses of mineral fertilizer) to achieve higher and more sustainable yields. In high-input rice-based systems, the focus was on site specific nutrient management and improved crop management in general. Compared with existing recommendations, yield gains of 0.15 to 0.55 t ha1 were obtained with site-specific approaches at equal costs leading to increased gross returns above fertilizer costs by an average of U.S. $140 per season compared with both farmers’ practice and existing recommendations. The research results were used to develop and fine-tune several decision support tools that can be used to conduct ex-ante impact analyses of promising technologies. The National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) and NGO staff involved in the project were trained in participatory learning and action-research approaches emphasizing agroecological principles rather than technology prescriptions. Attention was also paid to the development of institutional arrangements to facilitate the adoption of the technological options, such as improved access to mineral fertilizer and credit, through collaboration with two other IFDC projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA). These efforts culminated in the development the Competitive Agricultural Systems and Enterprises (CASE) approach. CASE combines participatory development of improved natural resource management technologies with coordinated efforts to experiment and extend alternative institutional arrangements that link farmers with input dealers, micro-finance, and traders. CASE also strengthens the innovative capacities of the various stakeholders involved. The CASE approach was evaluated with partners within the AISSA network. As a result of the project, 40 scientific papers were published or submitted to journals; four PhD theses and numerous M.S. theses were also written. Seven technical advisory notes (TANs) were derived from the research data. The project summarized the agroecological principles of ISFM in a manual; it also contributed to a facilitators’ manual, a technical manual for inland valley rice systems, and an ISFM manual published by an NGO (VeCO). The project actively worked with partners within IFAD-funded investment programs: • The former rural development project in southern Togo (PODV). • The South-West Development Project. • The special program for soil and water conservation and agro-forestry in Burkina Faso. • The Smallholder Floodplains Development Program, Malawi. • The Southern Province Household Food Security Program in Zambia. • The South-East Dry Areas Project. • The Smallholder Dry Areas Resource Management Project in Zimbabwe. • The Umutara Community Resources and Infrastructure Development Project (UCRIDP) in Rwanda. The project provided technical backstopping and training and stimulated participatory research on technological options and institutional arrangement to accelerate agricultural intensification using the CASE approach. Project staff also participated in formulation missions for the Programme d’Investissement Communautaire en Fertilité Agricole (PICOFA) and Projet de Développement Rural Durable du Burkina Faso (PDRDB) investment programs in Burkina Faso. Contacts were also established with IFAD investment programs in Ghana, Nigeria, Benin, and Mozambique. Two international training courses (one in English, one in French) were organized on the technological and institutional aspects of ISFM for partners from NARES, NGOs, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and investment program staff. The English training material is currently used for a distance learning course via the Internet by the Sustainable Development of Learning Network in Bangkok. Several training courses tailored to the specific needs and demands of partners at key sites were also provided. Many exchange visits and workshops were organized to enhance knowledge dissemination between countries and regions. The main lessons from the project are that translating research results into farm practice is not just about technologies but, more especially, about people and reinforcing their decision-making and capacity to analyze trade-offs and options and access information, services, and markets. This calls for a new approach to doing business in agricultural research and development. This new paradigm emphasizes interdisciplinary teamwork, inter-institutional partnerships, stakeholder involvement, participatory approaches, and systems thinking.
Farming systems, Food security, Agroforestry, Decision Support Systems